Chronic venous diseases range from telangiectasias and reticular veins, to varicose veins, to chronic venous insufficiency with edema, skin changes, and ulceration. This section of the chapter will focus on identification and treatment of varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency, since these problems are encountered frequently by the internist. The estimated prevalence of varicose veins in the United States is approximately 15% in men and 30% in women. Chronic venous insufficiency with edema affects approximately 7.5% of men and 5% of women, and the prevalence increases with age ranging from 2% among those less than 50 years of age to 10% of those 70 years of age. Approximately 20% of patients with chronic venous insufficiency develop venous ulcers.
Veins in the extremities can be broadly classified as either superficial or deep. The superficial veins are located between the skin and deep fascia. In the legs, these include the great and small saphenous veins and their tributaries. The great saphenous vein is the longest vein in the body. It originates on the medial side of the foot and ascends anterior to the medial malleolus and then along the medial side of the calf and thigh, and drains into the common femoral vein. The small saphenous vein originates on the dorsolateral aspect of the foot, ascends posterior to the lateral malleolus and along the posterolateral aspect of the calf, and drains into the popliteal vein. The deep veins of the leg accompany the major arteries. There are usually paired peroneal, anterior tibial, and posterior tibial veins in the calf, which converge to form the popliteal vein. Soleal tributary veins drain into the posterior tibial or peroneal veins, and gastrocnemius tributary veins drain into the popliteal vein. The popliteal vein ascends in the thigh as the femoral vein. The confluence of the femoral vein and deep femoral vein form the common femoral vein, which ascends in the pelvis as the external iliac and then common iliac vein, which converges with the contralateral common iliac vein at the inferior vena cava. Perforating veins connect the superficial and deep systems in the legs at multiple locations, normally allowing blood to flow from the superficial to deep veins. In the arms, the superficial veins include the basilic, cephalic, and median cubital veins and their tributaries. The basilic and cephalic veins course along the medial and lateral aspects of the arm, respectively, and these are connected via the median cubital vein in the antecubital fossa. The deep veins of the arms accompany the major arteries and include the radial, ulnar, brachial, axillary, and subclavian veins. The subclavian vein converges with the internal jugular vein to form the brachiocephalic vein, which joins the contralateral brachiocephalic vein to form the superior vena cava. Bicuspid valves are present throughout the venous system to direct the flow of venous blood centrally.
Pathophysiology of Chronic Venous Disease